British interior designer Susie Atkinson is the name behind many of the renowned Soho House projects, from boutique hotels and spas to members' clubs and restaurants. These include London's Shoreditch House, Dean Street Townhouse, Electric House on Portobello Road and the original Soho House, as well as Babington House in Somerset and Soho House Berlin. Having trained at the Inchbald School of Design in London in her early 20s, Atkinson then worked with interior designer Chester Jones and later set up her own practice, where she also works on private residential projects.
Can you tell me about your background, how you got to where you are now?
After doing a short course at the Inchbald, I managed to get my first job with Chester Jones. He had worked at Colefax and Fowler for many years and had left to set up a studio in Battersea. This is where I worked for three years before starting up on my own.
I was asked to help out with Shoreditch House towards the end of the project. I was brought in to fill up the vast space with furniture and accessories in a very short period of time. That started a long period of time when I worked for the Soho House Group. I began by redoing Babington House, and I worked on Dean Street Townhouse, where I did all the bedrooms, Soho House Berlin then followed, and the Electric.
My passion really is houses; I love making a space feel welcoming and interesting yet still reflecting the personalities of those living there. I wouldn't enjoy churning out room after room in the same generic way - it wouldn't challenge me and the ability to be creative is then compromised.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I'm working on a new-build townhouse in London, three country homes, and a wine tasting room at a wonderful vineyard in East Sussex. I am also embarking on a new project converting a large countryhouse into a hotel - it's a lovely project in stunning countryside but still close to London.
Do you have any particular influences, people who have inspired you?
I've always hugely admired the work of John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster. I'm also very interested in Dorothy Draper, who was an American designer and has been a great inspiration to me. As well as being influenced by the past, things that have a whimsical feel, I am constantly on the look out for new ideas, which when combined can create great atmosphere.
Are there any particular furniture or product designers that you consistently work with?
I do have people who make things for me but it depends entirely on the project. I'm always looking at new things, we are living in a creative boom at the moment, and I enjoy seeing the work of up-and-coming design students; one of my daughters is at Brighton University, and seeing what she and her peer group create is fascinating and exciting.
Are there any particular trends that you identify at the moment in interior design?
A trend that I've noticed over the last couple of years, which is becoming evident on the high street, is a surge towards colour again, which is great. We're seeing a lot of yellows, oranges and greens, and gold. There was a long period of time when things were very plain. There's more of an interest in decorative and special things. Maybe that is because times have been tough in recent years and people are valuing these things more. I'm very interested in ceramics and glass - their colours and shapes can enhance any space.
What do you look for personally in a hotel when you're staying there?
You need to open a room and immediately think, yes, I can relax here. It's all about atmosphere. It's frustrating if you're lying in bed and you can't switch off the lights because they're on a system that's difficult to work. Sometimes even turning the television on seems complicated. From a female point of view, if the hairdryer point is nowhere near a mirror, it's highly impractical. I especially hate the idea of having a hairdryer over the sink - you're taking your life in your hands every time you dry your hair! Above all I look for a feeling of comfort and an element of luxury so that you are happy to be away from home!
Do you have a personal favorite of the Soho House projects you've worked on?
I've always loved Babington House, there's something really special about it - just the whole place, the look of the building, and the position is fabulous. Soho House Berlin was also so exciting, and challenging on many levels, so it would be between those two.
How do you see your work evolving in the future? Are you going to concentrate on one area over another?
I like the split of work - so I hope to continue with both residential and private commissions. I would also like to continue to develop products and am planning a furniture and lighting collection, to add to the carpets that were launched this year.
You're judging the Hotel Interiors Category for this year's World Interiors News Annual Awards. Can you tell me what you will be looking for in a winning entry?
It needs to be well thought out, as well as being extremely comfortable and beautifully decorated. It also needs to be interesting and have a sense of longevity.
Rosie Spencer is a writer and editor, and has contributed to publications including Disegno, Icon, Domus, The Art Newspaper and Onoffice.